Revisiting Chernobyl: The Bitter and the Sweet - Part 1

Published Date: 31 March 2006

In Russian and Ukrainian, the word “Chernobyl” means black weed and is a member of the wormwood family. The Ukrainian city of Chernobyl was so named after the abundance of this weed growing in and around the city. The grass, which has a characteristic bitter taste and smell, is said to have natural repellent properties and many believed wormwood to have supernatural banishing powers. From a bird’s eye view the town of Pripyat, only three kilometers from the ill-fated Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, looks like a leafy green suburb of a mid-sized city. But in fact Pripyat is a “lost city” -- abandoned for the nearly two decades since the power plant accident, of 26 April 1986. The city of Pripyat, once home to 45,000 people, was completely evacuated the day after the accident. The Ferris wheel in the background is frozen in time -- part of a small amusement park scheduled to open on the first of May in 1986, but never did. Dr. Katerina Ganzha, a former resident of Pripyat, stands in the doorway of what was once her apartment. The day after the accident she, like all her neighbors, was evacuated. The residents were told to take with them their documents and money and believed they would be back soon. None of them ever returned. At the time of the accident, Dr. Katerina Ganzha was  Deputy Head Doctor of the Pripyat Polyclinic and one of the first physicians to treat  patients in the Pripyat hospital immediately following the nuclear power plant accident. Known as “liquidators” or clean-up workers, Dr. Ganzha and her colleagues were exposed to high radiation doses. Debris and crumbling plaster are all that remain of the ground floor of the Pripyat Polyclinic. Marauders have pillaged the furniture and equipment. The ill-fated 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine stands eerily quiet. The so- called  “shelter” houses tons of radioactive debris from the melted reactor of the 4th block.  Fears that it may collapse spurred a containment project soon to be implemented by an international consortium. In looking for clues about the environmental effects of the radiation fall-out, scientists use nature’s “outdoor laboratory” to probe for answers.  The Pripyat River, situated by the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, feeds a large artificial lake called the Kiev Water Reservoir where scientists trawl for samples. Taking samples from the Pripyat River is a  daily routine of the Chernobyl Ecological Center. Sampling the water helps scientists better understand the migration patterns of radionuclides in the waterways. Scientists Brenda E. Rogers from Texas A&M University (right) and local researcher Julia Gorjanaja in the Slavutich Radioecological Laboratory are studying mice from the heavily contaminated landscape in the vicinity of the power plant. This male mouse will be released, as well as the other mice, with a tag around his neck to trace his life history if caught again. In this way, researchers can observe the effect of high doses of radiation in mammals. An anonymous note, written in haste on the information board in the Pripyat polyclinic reads: 'I LOVE YOU PRIPYAT, FORGIVE ME'.